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Rob Zombie's '3 From Hell': Worth the Wait? (Review)

3 From Hell marks Rob Zombie’s return to the Firefly clan which started with House of 1000 Corpses and continued in to The Devil’s Rejects.  It had been fifteen years since we last saw Ottis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding paint the screen red…

Boy was the wait worth it.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: there is very little Captain Spaulding in this film.   Don’t worry that’s not a bad thing.  The moments he’s in are extremely well done, and Sid Haig’s performance is once again top notch.  But the actor’s age (80) likely played a part in why Spaulding wasn’t in the film as much.  Without giving away anything, how Spaulding arch is handled is fitting, smart, and real.

Now, that being said, let’s move on to the rest of the film.

Zombie does something different with 3 From Hell, at least in the beginning.  Instead of jumping straight in to another film, or picking up where The Devil’s Rejects left off – in the climatic shootout - we are once again introduced to Baby, Ottis, and Captain Spaulding through a 16mm shot “true crime” documentary-style film that oozes late 70s and early 80s true crime TV shows. 

This is one of the best aspects of 3 From Hell and where the film shows both its grindhouse roots, while at the same time expanding the lore of the three and how they’re perceived by the public – “FREE THE THREE” as it's stated in the film.  The THREE are now famous, for their crimes, in the same way Manson, Bundy, and Dahmer were.  This is where the film’s entire plot unfolds and everything past these first ten to fifteen minutes sets up the rest of the film.

Like with Devil’s Rejects, Zombie forces us to side with the antiheros, even though they are vile characters.  We watch them murder and hurt people without a second thought, while enjoying it, and in the end, we end up rooting for them.  How effortlessly Zombie makes you go from hating these characters to identifying with them is scary - you want to see them live by the end!  Let’s reiterate – you want to see three characters, characters you just watched rape, murder, skin, and speak some of the most profane language possible…live. 

This is a testament to Zombie’s skill as writer/director, and that must be applauded.  You can say what you want about Zombie’s version of Halloween, but when it comes to these characters and this storyline, he understands them and the world they occupy fully. 

How is that possible?

Two reasons: Zombie’s handling of the characters and the acting from Sherri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley, and newcomer to the franchise, Richard Brake.

All three of these actors are in top form and chewing-up every scene, especially Sherri Moon Zombie, who may have just given the best performance of her career.  She is so in to the headspace of Baby, that you no longer see Sherrie Moon Zombie up on that screen, but baby herself coming to life in all her craziness.  Bill Moseley as Ottis is once again on point; he’s able to become both frighteningly evil in once scene and loveable in the next, and does this with such little effort that it leaves you conflicted inside as whether you should be likening this character as much as you do.

Richard Brake as Winslow Foxworth Coltrane makes up the THREE in 3 From Hell, and as a way to possibly keep the franchise going for future films.  Brake always gives a strong performance no matter what he’s in – he is the shining light for many horror fans in Zombie’s 31 as Doom-Head.  Here, Brake is as strong as ever and just as crazy, but loveable, as Baby and Ottis are.

If there is one fault 3 From Hell has, it maybe the films budget.  There are times when you can tell that Zombie was trying to hide the budget with close-ups (which there are too many) and with small set pieces, mostly keeping to rooms, a few houses, and finally a small town in Mexico where the bloody climax takes place.  The scope of The Devil’s Rejects (which feels big) is sadly missed in this film, but at the same time, that makes 3 From Hell its own thing – much like House of 1000 Corpses is vastly different that The Devil’s Rejects.  

But don’t let the small budget fool you, there is enough debauchery and violence to fill your appetite.

Without spoiling the film’s ending or anything that happens in between, let’s just end with this: there’s room for future films in this series, and if Zombie and crew decide to make more, there are plenty of places to take these characters next.

10 out of 10 stars